Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Five Things to Know about Threats to Flights. What Are the Consequences?

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Five Things to Know about Threats to Flights. What Are the Consequences?

Article excerpt

Five things to know about threats to flights

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TORONTO - The past week has seen several threats made against Canadian airliners. The disruptions to four WestJet flights and one Air Canada plane left passengers scrambling as airlines dealt with halted operations and route diversions. Although each threat proved to be a false alarm, police are investigating them and aviation experts are taking notice.

Here are a few facts about how such situations are handled:

How frequently do airlines have to contend with bomb threats?

Not very often, according to industry observers. Edward McKeogh, President of Canadian Aviation Safety Consultants, says it's not unheard of for airlines to go a full year without fielding a threat of real substance. McKeogh said the major airlines tend to be the most common targets.

How do airlines typically respond when threats do occur?

While individual protocols may vary among airlines, McKeogh said the basic approach is the same -- every threat must be taken seriously.

"As soon as they find out about a threat of this nature, they relay it to the flight in question, or sometimes all flights that are airborne, and those flights will then divert to the nearest suitable airport," he said. This wasn't always the case, however.

Jock Williams, a retired flight safety officer with Transport Canada, said 9/11 brought about significant changes in the way even idle threats are handled. Airlines, he said, used to have much more discretion to assess individual situations.

"In the past, they've made an educated guess and maybe said, 'No, we won't do anything about this,'" he said. "I don't think you're going to see much 'No, we won't do anything about it' anymore."

What's the economic impact on the airline?

McKeogh said each diversion is an expensive proposition. By the time an airline reroutes the flight, deplanes the passengers, ensures they're taken care of at the alternate airport, inspects the aircraft and then resumes the original course, he said the bill can easily equal tens of thousands of dollars. …

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